Imprimatura in painting – everything you wanted to know, answered

An imprimatura is a thin, transparent layer of paint that is applied to the surface before painting. This initial coat helps to create a uniform ground and provides a base for the subsequent layers of paint. It is an Italian word that loosely means “first paint layer”, like a primer but not opaque.

Screen Shot 2022 03 19 at 4.58.33 pm

Why is imprimatura important?

An imprimatura is important because it helps to create a more accurate representation of the light and colors in a painting. When light hits the imprimatura, it is able to penetrate the transparent layer and reflect off of the surface below.

Apart from this, in practical terms using an imprimatura allows the artist to see the colors being applied on a base that is not just white.

An example being if you are applying a light color or white color on top of a white base on a canvas then it will be hard to see. Working on a tinted surface will allow most colors to be easily seen.

Additionally, an imprimatura allows the painter to see the true colors and values of the scene, which makes it easier to achieve an accurate portrayal in the final painting.

Screen Shot 2022 03 19 at 4.59.03 pm

How do you make imprimatura?

There are two main ways to create imprimatura, depending on the type of paint you are using.

If you are using oil paint, you can mix a small amount of oil with your chosen color pigment. This creates a transparent layer that can be applied to the surface you are painting on.

If you are using acrylic paint, you can add a glazing medium to your chosen color pigment. This will also create a transparent layer that can be applied to the surface you want to paint on.

What are some imprimatura techniques?

There are many different imprimatura techniques that painters can use, depending on the effect they want to achieve in their painting.

One popular technique is to use a light imprimatura over a dark surface, which will create a luminous effect in the painting.

Another technique is to use a dark imprimatura over a light surface, which will create a more intense and saturated effect in the painting.

Painters can also experiment with using different colors of imprimatura to create different effects in their paintings.

What is the purpose of imprimatura in painting?

The imprimatura layer provides a painter with a transparent, toned ground that will allow light falling onto the painting to reflect through the paint layers more accurately. This initial paint layer also helps to create a more uniform surface for subsequent paint layers.

Think of it as a fancier transparent undercoat, something that sits just on top of the primer or it can be the primer itself. The aim of the imprimatura coat is to give the painting more depth.

Screen Shot 2022 03 19 at 4.59.18 pm

What are some of the main colors used for imprimatura painting?

The most common colors used for imprimatura are black, brown, and white. However, other colors can be used depending on the desired effect. For example, if you want to add a green tint to your painting, you could use a green imprimatura.

What is the difference between impasto and imprimatura?

Impasto is a technique where the paint is applied thickly to the surface, often resulting in textured brushstrokes. Imprimatura is an initial paint layer that helps to create a more uniform surface for subsequent paint layers.

Can you use imprimatura on any type of painting surface or project?

Imprimatura can be applied to any painting surface, but is most commonly used on canvas. You can also apply imprimatura to gessoed surfaces. When wishing to apply imprimatura to paper, it is best to use a hot press watercolor paper.

Do you have to let imprimatura dry before adding other paint layers?

Yes, imprimatura needs to be completely dry before adding subsequent paint layers. If impasto techniques are being used, it is best to let the imprimatura layer dry for 24 hours before proceeding.

What happens if you don’t let imprimatura dry before painting over it?

If you don’t let imprimatura dry before painting over it, the paint layers will not adhere properly and could start to peel off. At best, the colors will mix. You do not wish for either of these to happen to your artworks.

How many layers of imprimatura can you apply?

You can apply as many layers of imprimatura as you want, but it is usually best to keep the number of layers to a minimum.

What should you do if imprimatura starts to crack?

If imprimatura starts to crack, this means that it has dried too quickly and the paint layer is not adhering properly to the ground. In this case, you can apply a new imprimatura layer and allow it to dry completely before continuing with your painting project.

Though imprimatura is an essential first step in any painting project, it’s important to remember that less is more. Too many layers of imprimatura can make the paint look heavy and unnatural.

How long does imprimatura take to dry?

The drying time for imprimatura depends on the type of paint used. Oil-based imprimatura can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to dry completely, while water-based imprimatura will dry in a few hours.

What are some common imprimatura mistakes?

One of the most common imprimatura mistakes is not allowing the initial layer to dry completely before starting to paint. This can cause the imprimatura to crack and the paint to lift off the surface.

Another common mistake is using too much imprimatura. Too many layers of imprimatura can make the paint look heavy and unnatural.

Finally, some painters make the mistake of trying to apply imprimatura over an already painted surface. Imprimatura should only be applied to a newly prepared surface and not over an existing painting.

What is the difference between imprimatura and gesso?

Gesso is a white paint layer that is often used as a primer for canvas. Imprimatura can be any color, and is typically transparent. Gesso is usually opaque.

Imprimatura vs. Grisaille or Both

Whether you should use imprimatura, grisaille, or even both in a painting depends on your desired effect and technique.

Imprimatura is a thin, colored layer of paint applied to the canvas to establish a tonal base for the painting. It can help unify the painting’s color scheme and provide a warm or cool undertone, depending on the chosen color.

Grisaille is a technique where the artist paints the entire composition in shades of gray, mimicking a black-and-white photograph. This technique allows the artist to establish the values and tonal relationships in the painting before adding color.

Using both imprimatura and grisaille can create a layered effect in a painting. The imprimatura can establish the overall color scheme, while the grisaille can create a strong tonal foundation. Once both layers are dry, the artist can then add glazes or transparent layers of color to create depth and richness in the painting.

The decision to use imprimatura, grisaille, or both ultimately comes down to your personal preference as the artist and your intended effect and technique.

Most artists choose to use just one technique, while some may experiment with a combination of both to achieve their desired outcome.

Ultimately, the choice depends on the individual artist’s goals and their unique approach to painting.

Imprimatura painting video

The second party to this video is available at https://youtu.be/CJAHWWY-gKs

How do you apply imprimatura?

Imprimatura can be applied with a brush, roller, or spray bottle. When using a brush, it’s best to use a wide, flat brush to avoid leaving brushstrokes in the paint.

If using a roller, make sure to roll in one direction only to avoid creating lines in the imprimatura. When applying imprimatura with a spray bottle, hold the bottle about 6-8 inches away from the surface and apply an even layer of paint.

I also like to apply an imprimatura over my initial sketch made on the canvas. I tend to sketch out my paintings using charcoal or graphite pencil but I hate having these mixed in with my paint layers so I like to apply an imprimatura layer over these, basically sealing them before I start painting.

How do I make imprimatura?

There are many recipes for imprimatura, but a simple way to make imprimatura is to mix a black or white pigment with a binder.

For oil painting, these can be linseed oil or egg tempera.

For acrylic painting it is simply acrylic paint mixed with the color you wish to use as the imprimatura layer.

Does the imprimatura layer need to be applied thick or thin?

It is best to apply imprimatura in a very thin layer, as it is only meant to provide a transparent base for your painting.

Applying imprimatura too thickly can result in the paint layer being opaque and dull.

What are some tips for using imprimatura in painting?

Some tips for using imprimatura in painting include:

– Use a thin layer of imprimatura so that it doesn’t crack

– Choose a color that will complement the painting

– Apply imprimatura to a clean, dry surface

– You can use an imprimatura over an initial sketch

– Allow imprimatura to dry completely before continuing with the painting.

Imprimatura vs underpainting – are they the same?

Another question I had was, is imprimatura the same as an underpainting?

The difference seems to be that imprimatura is always a thin layer of paint (usually just one coat) while an underpainting can be multiple layers. Underpaintings are also usually opaque while imprimaturas are transparent.

So you could say that all imprimaturas are underpaintings but not all underpaintings are imprimaturas.

Imprimatura – supporting videos

I can keep writing so much about imprimatura but seeing it in action in a video will help solidify what you may be imagining. So let’s take a look at one of the better videos that I have found.

How to make an imprimatura

how to make an imprimatura painting video

Painting the imprimatura

painting the imprimatura video


  1. I do agree with all the ideas you’ve introduced in your post.
    They are really convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for newbies.
    May just you please prolong them a little from next time?
    Thank you for the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *